Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

A Generation Comes of Age

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

A Generation Comes of Age

Article excerpt

From mid-January to mid-March, I traveled to 22 cities on my Great Awakening book tour. The most compelling evidence I saw that we really are entering a "post-Religious Right America" is the shifting political agenda and theological emphasis of a new generation of twentysomething evangelicals. I met thousands of them on the road as they came out in large numbers for book events.

I travel with one of these young evangelicals, Chris LaTondresse, a missionary kid who grew up in the former Soviet Union and who recently graduated from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. From the conversations he and I have been having with those in attendance at book events, churches, and evangelical college campuses, it's clear that churchgoers growing up in conservative pews are finally coming of age with regard to peace and justice issues. This emerging generation is the leading edge of a new movement of progressive evangelicals.

In Boston, I spoke at the historic Park Street Church, where the premier evangelist of the Second Great Awakening, Charles Finney, preached in 1831. The Billy Graham of his day, Finney called people to faith in Jesus Christ and then to enlist in the anti-slavery campaign. Finney actually pioneered the "altar call" so he could sign up his converts for the anti-slavery campaign. Another famous anti-slavery crusader of the time, the more secular William Lloyd Garrison, delivered his first abolitionist speech in the same church when he was only 23 years old.

On that weekday night at Park Street, I encountered a packed church of hundreds of young evangelicals who want to be a generation of new "abolitionists"--focusing on the most vulnerable people in our world today. They suspect that Jesus would likely care about the 30,000 children around the world who die each day due to unnecessary poverty and preventable disease.

At Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, they couldn't find enough chairs for all the students who turned up, with many sitting on the floor or standing in the back of the room. The same thing happened at Wheaton College out side of Chicago, the most famous evangelical school in America, and at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, where students packed the gymnasium on a Friday night. Many of these students realize that Christianity has an image problem: It is seen as hypocritical, judgmental, too focused on the afterlife, and too partisan. They desire something radically new and different, yet still solidly rooted in Jesus.

THE YOUNG evangelicals are not alone, but are part of a broader, new, spiritually rooted progressive movement that includes the religious from

many traditions, the "spiritual but not religious," and also secular youth who hunger for a moral dimension to public life.

I met young Catholics who are discovering their own church's social teaching about the common good; I met seminary students in mainline Protestantism forming "beatitudes societies" to study the core teachings of Jesus' sermon on the Mount and packing our event at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Alongside them are young black pastors who don't want to just sing the old anthems of the civil rights movement, but seek to make their own history for justice. Next-generation Latino Pentecostals and Catholics see issues such as immigration as key religious and moral questions, and the sons and daughters of Asian-American immigrant Christians are not just focusing on assimilation as their parents did but are reaching out into their communities. …

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